More Zoom, Less Climate Gloom As Conferences Move Online, Study Finds


  • A new study has found that moving conferences online can reduce carbon footprints by 94% and energy use by 90%.
  • He also revealed that hybrid events, which some attendees attend in person while others attend online, could reduce the carbon footprint and energy by two-thirds by taking steps such as choosing a location carefully and not serving than plant-based foods.
  • While some professionals are dissatisfied with online conferences, mainly due to the poor networking opportunities, others have expressed satisfaction with the accessibility of these formats and the reduced carbon footprint and costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of daily life, including the way we work. Today more than ever, professionals are working from home due to health and safety concerns and local restrictions. The pandemic has also forced the multibillion-dollar events industry to undergo a fundamental shift, as many organizers move conferences from physical rooms to online platforms like Zoom.

The move to online conferencing can be a big change for those who are used to interacting with their peers while munching on sofas in the halls of the auditorium. But a new study published in Nature Communication argues that keeping conferences virtual or using a hybrid format, which some attendees attend in person while others attend online, can be a productive strategy to mitigate climate change.

In 2017, business events alone involved 1.5 billion attendees from 180 countries and contributed $ 2.5 trillion in spending while supporting 26 million jobs, according to a 2018 study from Oxford Economics. . An Allied Market Research report also found that the events industry will grow from around $ 1.1 billion in 2019 to $ 1.5 billion by 2028.

Before the start of the pandemic, the global conferencing industry contributed 0.138 to 5.31 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GT CO2e) per year, or the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the entire United States, explains Fengqi You, co-author of the new study and professor of systems engineering at the ‘Cornell University.

“The events industry globally emits significant carbon emissions,” You told Mongabay in an emailed statement. “We believe that moving the conferences fully or partially online can reduce a considerable amount of carbon emissions around the world.”

Moving conferences from boardrooms to online platforms can reduce carbon footprints by 94% and energy use by 90%, according to the new study. The little carbon and energy that is still emitted during virtual conferences comes from things like home electricity use, although this is only a fraction of what is emitted during a conference call. in person event.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress used a hybrid format for its 2021 event, with some attendees attending in person and others online. Image by IUCN / Ecodeo / Margarita Corporan.

The study also found that a hybrid system could reduce a conference’s carbon footprint and power consumption by two-thirds while maintaining over 50% in-person attendance. Conference organizers can help reduce an event’s carbon footprint and energy by carefully choosing a hub that allows attendees in person to travel only a short distance or by choosing to serve only plant-based foods, suggest the authors.

While many professionals have complained of “zoom fatigue” after spending countless hours on online platforms, a survey conducted by Nature in 2021 found that 74% of its 900 survey respondents agreed that virtual conferencing should continue after the pandemic. The main reason for wanting to continue with virtual conferences was accessibility, followed by reducing the carbon footprint and costs. The main reason for not wanting to continue with virtual conferences was the poor networking opportunities.

You said that he had personally attended numerous virtual and hybrid conferences in 2021, and that while he lacked the in-person interactions with his colleagues, he said that these modes worked “well enough” for him.

“I saved time traveling to the conference venues and avoided some potential logistical issues in finding hotels and accommodation,” You said. “I am happy that the ‘avoided’ transport stages can contribute to the mitigation of climate change in general. Still, I found that conference planners had to put more effort into hosting online / hybrid events due to the new way of working.

One conference that took a hybrid approach was the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which was held in Marseille, France, in September 2021, after the pandemic delayed the date for the initial conference to 2020. There were 5,700 participants registered in person and 3,200 participants online, as well as 25,000 public visitors, according to IUCN.

“Overall this turned out to be a very good solution, as it maximized the accessibility of the event,” Marc Magaud, IUCN’s global meetings and events manager, told Mongabay, in a comment. press release sent by email. “It allowed those who were able to go to Marseille to meet in person, which remains very important according to the feedback from participants that we received through a comprehensive survey. It also allowed those who could not make the trip to have a voice in Congress. In the future, as technology – and our ability to use it to the fullest – improves, we believe this model will increasingly become the new standard for large environmental conferences. “

You said he hoped the new study would help raise awareness of the climate change benefits of online conferencing or even moving to a hybrid format. He also points out that bringing conferences online can help reduce 0.13 to 5 GT CO2e, or 0.3% to 14% of global carbon emissions, which can help the world meet critical targets to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

“The 2021 IPCC report indicates that if no reduction is made, the remaining carbon budget of 300 to 350 GT CO2 stay with 1.5 ℃ [2.7°F] global warming will stop in 8.3 to 9.7 years, ”he said. “Reducing virtual events may extend the timeframe by approximately 1.5 more years.”


Global economic significance of trade events. (2018). Retrieved from the Events Industry Council and Oxford Economics website: 09-2018.pdf

Tao, Y., Steckel, D., Klemeš, JJ, & You, F. (2021). The trend towards virtual and hybrid conferences can be an effective climate change mitigation strategy. Nature Communication, 12(1). doi: 10.1038 / s41467-021-27251-2

Vig, H., & Deshmukh, R. (2021). Event Industry by Type, Organizer, and Age Range: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021-2028. Retrieved from the Allied Market Research website:

Remmel, A. (2021). Scientists want virtual meetings to stay after the COVID pandemic. Nature, 591(7849), 185-186. doi: 10.1038 / d41586-021-00513-1

Banner image caption: The recent IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France used a hybrid format. Image by IUCN / Ecodeo / Liz Rubin.

Business, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon emissions, carbon footprint, climate change, conservation, energy, energy efficiency, environment, technology, technology and conservation

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